Tales of Lonely Trails by Zane Grey
Chapter IV. Tonto Basin
I had been riding eastward of Beaver Dam Canyon with Haught, and we had parted up on the ridge, he to go down a ravine leading to his camp, and I to linger a while longer up there in the Indian-summer woods, so full of gold and silence and fragrance on that October afternoon.
The trail gradually drew me onward and downward, and at length I came out into a narrow open park lined by spruce trees. Suddenly Don Carlos shot up his ears. I had not ridden him for days and he appeared more than usually spirited. He saw or heard something. I held him in, and after a moment I dismounted and drew my rifle. A crashing in brush somewhere near at hand excited me. Peering all around I tried to locate cause for the sound. Again my ear caught a violent swishing of brush accompanied by a snapping of twigs. This time I cocked my rifle. Don Carlos snorted. After another circling swift gaze it dawned upon me that the sound came from overhead.
I looked into this tree and that, suddenly to have my gaze arrested by a threshing commotion in the very top of a lofty spruce. I saw a dark form moving against a background of blue sky. Instantly I thought it must be a lynx and was about to raise my rifle when a voice as from the very clouds utterly astounded me. I gasped in my astonishment. Was I dreaming? But violent threshings and whacks from the tree-top absolutely assured me that I was neither dreaming nor out of my head. "I get you--whee!" shouted the voice. There was a man up in the swaying top of that spruce and he was no other than Takahashi. For a moment I could not find my voice. Then I shouted:
"Hey up there, George! What in the world are you doing? I came near shooting you."
"Aw hullo!--I come down now," replied Takahashi.
I had seen both lynx and lion climb down out of a tree, but nothing except a squirrel could ever have beaten Takahashi. The spruce was fully one hundred and fifty feet high; and unless I made a great mistake the Jap descended in two minutes. He grinned from ear to ear.
"I no see you--no hear," he said. "You take me for big cat?"
"Yes, George, and I might have shot you. What were you doing up there?"
Takahashi brushed the needles and bark from his clothes. "I go out with little gun you give me. I hunt, no see squirrel. Go out no gun--see squirrel. I chase him up tree--I climb high--awful high. No good. Squirrel he too quick. He run right over me--get away."
Takahashi laughed with me. I believed he was laughing at what he considered the surprising agility of the squirrel, while I was laughing at him. Here was another manifestation of the Jap's simplicity and capacity. If all Japanese were like Takahashi they were a wonderful people. Men are men because they do things. The Persians were trained to sweat freely at least once every day of their lives. It seemed to me that if a man did not sweat every day, which was to say--labor hard--he very surely was degenerating physically. I could learn a great deal from George Takahashi. Right there I told him that my father had been a famous squirrel hunter in his day. He had such remarkable eyesight that he could espy the ear of a squirrel projecting above the highest limb of a tall white oak. And he was such a splendid shot that he had often "barked" squirrels, as was a noted practice of the old pioneer. I had to explain to Takahashi that this practice consisted of shooting a bullet to hit the bark right under the squirrel, and the concussion would so stun it that it would fall as if dead.
"Aw my goodnish--your daddy more better shot than you!" ejaculated Takahashi.
"Yes indeed he was," I replied, reflectively, as in a flash the long-past boyhood days recurred in memory. Hunting days--playing days of boyhood were the best of life. It seemed to me that one of the few reasons I still had for clinging to hunting was this keen, thrilling hark back to early days. Books first--then guns--then fishing poles--so ran the list of material possessions dear to my heart as a lad.
That night was moonlight, cold, starry, with a silver sheen on the spectral spruces. During the night there came a change; it rained--first a drizzle, then a heavy downpour, and at five-thirty a roar of hail on the tent. This music did not last long. At seven o'clock the thermometer registered thirty-four degrees, but there was no frost. The morning was somewhat cloudy or foggy, with promise of clearing.
We took the hounds over to See Canyon, and while Edd and Nielsen went down with them, the rest of us waited above for developments. Scarcely had they more than time enough to reach the gorge below when the pack burst into full chorus. Haught led the way then around the rough rim for better vantage points. I was mounted on one of the horses Lee had gotten for me--a fine, spirited animal named Stockings. Probably he had been a cavalry horse. He was a bay with white feet, well built and powerful, though not over medium size. One splendid feature about him was that a saddle appeared to fit him so snugly it never slipped. And another feature, infinitely the most attractive to me, was his easy gait. His trot and lope were so comfortable and swinging, like the motion of a rocking-chair, that I could ride him all day with pleasure. But when it came to chasing after hounds and bears along the rim Stockings gave me trouble. Too eager, too spirited, he would not give me time to choose the direction. He jumped ditches and gullies, plunged into bad jumbles or rock, tried to hurdle logs too high for him, carried me under low branches and through dense thickets, and in general showed he was exceedingly willing to chase after the pack, but ignorant of rough forest travel. Owing to this I fell behind, and got out of hearing of both hounds and men, and eventually found myself lost somewhere on the west side of See Canyon. To get out I had to turn my back to the sun, travel west till I came to the rim above Horton Thicket, and from there return to camp, arriving rather late in the afternoon.
All the men had returned, and all the hounds except Buck. I was rather surprised and disturbed to find the Haughts in a high state of dudgeon. Edd looked pale and angry. Upon questioning Nielsen I learned that the hounds had at once struck a fresh bear track in See Canyon. Nielsen and Edd had not followed far before they heard a hound yelping in pain. They found Buck caught in a bear trap. The rest of the hounds came upon a little bear cub, caught in another trap, and killed it. Nielsen said it had evidently been a prisoner for some days, being very poor and emaciated. Fresh tracks of the mother bear were proof that she had been around trying to save it or minister to it. There were trappers in See Canyon; and between bear hunters and trappers manifestly there was no love lost. Edd said they had as much right to trap as we had to hunt, but that was not the question. There had been opportunity to tell the Haughts about the big number four bear traps set in See Canyon. But they did not tell it. Edd had brought the dead cub back to our camp. It was a pretty little bear cub, about six months old, with a soft silky brown coat. No one had to look at it twice to see how it had suffered.
This matter of trapping wild animals is singularly hateful to me. Bad enough is it to stalk deer to shoot them for their meat, but at least this is a game where the deer have all the advantage. Bad indeed it may be to chase bear with hounds, but that is a hard, dangerous method of hunting which gives it some semblance of fairness. Most of my bear hunts proved to me that I ran more risks than the bears. To set traps, however, to hide big iron-springed, spike-toothed traps to catch and clutch wild animals alive, and hold them till they died or starved or gnawed off their feet, or until the trapper chose to come with his gun or club to end the miserable business--what indeed shall I call that? Cruel--base--cowardly!
It cannot be defended on moral grounds. But vast moneyed interests are at stake. One of the greatest of American fortunes was built upon the brutal, merciless trapping of wild animals for their furs. And in this fall of 1919 the prices of fox, marten, beaver, raccoon, skunk, lynx, muskrat, mink, otter, were higher by double than they had ever been. Trappers were going to reap a rich harvest. Well, everybody must make a living; but is this trapping business honest, is it manly? To my knowledge trappers are hardened. Market fishermen are hardened, too, but the public eat fish. They do not eat furs. Now in cold climates and seasons furs are valuable to protect people who must battle with winter winds and sleet and ice; and against their use by such I daresay there is no justification for censure. But the vast number of furs go to deck the persons of vain women. I appreciate the beautiful contrast of fair skin against a background of sable fur, or silver fox, or rich, black, velvety seal. But beautiful women would be just as beautiful, just as warmly clothed in wool instead of fur. And infinitely better women! Not long ago I met a young woman in one of New York's fashionable hotels, and I remarked about the exquisite evening coat of fur she wore. She said she loved furs. She certainly was handsome, and she appeared to be refined, cultured, a girl of high class. And I said it was a pity women did not know or care where furs came from. She seemed surprised. Then I told her about the iron-jawed, spike-toothed traps hidden by the springs or on the runways of game--about the fox or beaver or marten seeking its food, training its young to fare for themselves--about the sudden terrible clutch of the trap, and then the frantic fear, the instinctive fury, the violent struggle--about the foot gnawed off by the beast that was too fierce to die a captive--about the hours of agony, the horrible thirst--the horrible days till death. And I concluded: "All because women are luxurious and vain!" She shuddered underneath the beautiful coat of furs, and seemed insulted.
Upon inquiry I learned from Nielsen that Buck was coming somewhere back along the trail hopping along on three legs. I rode on down to my camp, and procuring a bottle of iodine I walked back in the hope of doing Buck a good turn. During my absence he had reached camp, and was lying under an aspen, apart from the other hounds. Buck looked meaner and uglier and more distrustful than ever. Evidently this injury to his leg was a trick played upon him by his arch enemy man. I stood beside him, as he licked the swollen, bloody leg, and talked to him, as kindly as I knew how. And finally I sat down beside him. The trap-teeth had caught his right front leg just above the first joint, and from the position of the teeth marks and the way he moved his leg I had hopes that the bone was not broken. Apparently the big teeth had gone through on each side of the bone. When I tried gently to touch the swollen leg Buck growled ominously. He would have bitten me. I patted his head with one hand, and watching my chance, at length with the other I poured iodine over the open cuts. Then I kept patting him and holding his head until the iodine had become absorbed. Perhaps it was only my fancy, but it seemed that the ugly gleam in his distrustful eyes had become sheepish, as if he was ashamed of something he did not understand. That look more than ever determined me to try to find some way to his affections.
A camp-fire council that night resulted in plans to take a pack outfit, and ride west along the rim to a place Haught called Dude Creek. "Reckon we'll shore smoke up some bars along Dude," said Haught. "Never was in there but I jumped bars. Good deer an' turkey country, too."
Next day we rested the hounds, and got things into packing shape with the intention of starting early the following morning. But it rained on and off; and the day after that we could not find Haught's burros, and not until the fourth morning could we start. It turned out that Buck did not have a broken leg and had recovered surprisingly from the injury he had received. Aloof as he held himself it appeared certain he did not want to be left behind.
We rode all day along the old Crook road where the year before we had encountered so many obstacles. I remembered most of the road, but how strange it seemed to me, and what a proof of my mental condition on that memorable trip, that I did not remember all. Usually forest or desert ground I have traveled over I never forget. This ride, in the middle of October, when all the colors of autumn vied with the sunlight to make the forest a region of golden enchantment, was one of particular delight to me. I had begun to work and wear out the pain in my back. Every night I had suffered a little less and slept a little better, and every morning I had less and less of a struggle to get up and straighten out. Many a groan had I smothered. But now, when I got warmed up from riding or walking or sawing wood, the pain left me altogether and I forgot it. I had given myself heroic treatment, but my reward was in sight. My theory that the outdoor life would cure almost any ill of body or mind seemed to have earned another proof added to the long list.
At sunset we had covered about sixteen miles of rough road, and had arrived at a point where we were to turn away from the rim, down into a canyon named Barber Shop Canyon, where we were to camp.
Before turning aside I rode out to the rim for a look down at the section of country we were to hunt. What a pleasure to recognize the point from which Romer-boy had seen his first wild bear! It was a wonderful section of rim-rock country. I appeared to be at the extreme point of a vast ten-league promontory, rising high over the basin, where the rim was cut into canyons as thick as teeth of a saw. They were notched and v-shaped. Craggy russet-lichened cliffs, yellow and gold-stained rocks, old crumbling ruins of pinnacles crowned by pine thickets, ravines and gullies and canyons, choked with trees and brush all green-gold, purple-red, scarlet-fire--these indeed were the heights and depths, the wild, lonely ruggedness, the color and beauty of Arizona land. There were long, steep slopes of oak thickets, where the bears lived, long gray slides of weathered rocks, long slanting ridges of pine, descending for miles out and down into the green basin, yet always seeming to stand high above that rolling wilderness. The sun stood crossed by thin clouds--a golden blaze in a golden sky--sinking to meet a ragged horizon line of purple.
Here again was I confronted with the majesty and beauty of the earth, and with another and more striking effect of this vast tilted rim of mesa. I could see many miles to west and east. This rim was a huge wall of splintered rock, a colossal cliff, towering so high above the black basin below that ravines and canyons resembled ripples or dimples, darker lines of shade. And on the other side from its very edge, where the pine fringe began, it sloped gradually to the north, with heads of canyons opening almost at the crest. I saw one ravine begin its start not fifty feet from the rim.
Barber Shop Canyon had five heads, all running down like the fingers of a hand, to form the main canyon, which was deep, narrow, forested by giant pines. A round, level dell, watered by a murmuring brook, deep down among the many slopes, was our camp ground, and never had I seen one more desirable. The wind soughed in the lofty pine tops, but not a breeze reached down to this sheltered nook. With sunset gold on the high slopes our camp was shrouded in twilight shadows. R.C. and I stretched a canvas fly over a rope from tree to tree, staked down the ends, and left the sides open. Under this we unrolled our beds.
Night fell quickly down in that sequestered pit, and indeed it was black night. A blazing camp-fire enhanced the circling gloom, and invested the great brown pines with some weird aspect. The boys put up an old tent for the hounds. Poor Buck was driven out of this shelter by his canine rivals. I took pity upon him, and tied him at the foot of my bed. When R.C. and I crawled into our blankets we discovered Buck snugly settled between our beds, and wonderful to hear, he whined. "Well, Buck, old dog, you keep the skunks away," said R.C. And Buck emitted some kind of a queer sound, apparently meant to assure us that he would keep even a lion away. From my bed I could see the tips of the black pines close to the white stars. Before I dropped to sleep the night grew silent, except for the faint moan of wind and low murmur of brook.
We crawled out early, keen to run from the cold wash in the brook to the hot camp-fire. George and Edd had gone down the canyon after the horses, which had been hobbled and turned loose. Lee had remained with his father at Beaver Dam camp. For breakfast Takahashi had venison, biscuits, griddle cakes with maple syrup, and hot cocoa. I certainly did not begin on an empty stomach what augured to be a hard day. Buck hung around me this morning, and I subdued my generous impulses long enough to be convinced that he had undergone a subtle change. Then I fed him. Old Dan and Old Tom were witnesses of this procedure, which they regarded with extreme disfavor. And the pups tried to pick a fight with Buck.
By eight o'clock we were riding up the colored slopes, through the still forest, with the sweet, fragrant, frosty air nipping at our noses. A mile from camp we reached a notch in the rim that led down to Dude Creek, and here Edd and Nielsen descended with the hounds. The rest of us rode out to a point there to await developments. The sun had already flooded the basin with golden light; the east slopes of canyon and rim were dark in shade. I sat on a mat of pine needles near the rim, and looked, and cared not for passage of time.
But I was not permitted to be left to sensorial dreams. Right under us the hounds opened up, filling the canyon full of bellowing echoes. They worked down. Slopes below us narrowed to promontories and along these we kept our gaze. Suddenly Haught gave a jump, and rose, thumping to his horse. "Saw a bar," he yelled. "Just got a glimpse of him crossin' an open ridge. Come on." We mounted and chased Haught over the roughest kind of rocky ground, to overtake him at the next point on the rim. "Ride along, you fellars," he said, "an' each pick out a stand. Keep ahead of the dogs an' look sharp."
Then it was in short order that I found myself alone, Copple, R.C. and George Haught having got ahead of me. I kept to the rim. The hounds could be heard plainly and also the encouraging yells of Nielsen and Edd. Apparently the chase was working along under me, in the direction I was going. The baying of the pack, the scent of pine, the ring of iron-shod hoofs on stone, the sense of wild, broken, vast country, the golden void beneath and the purple-ranged horizon--all these brought vividly and thrillingly to mind my hunting days with Buffalo Jones along the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I felt a pang, both for the past, and for my friend and teacher, this last of the old plainsmen who had died recently. In his last letter to me, written with a death-stricken hand, he had talked of another hunt, of more adventure, of his cherished hope to possess an island in the north Pacific, there to propagate wild animals--he had dreamed again the dream that could never come true. I was riding with my face to the keen, sweet winds of the wild, and he was gone. No joy in life is ever perfect. I wondered if any grief was ever wholly hopeless.
I came at length to a section of rim where huge timbered steps reached out and down. Dismounting I tied Stockings, and descended to the craggy points below, where I clambered here and there, looking, listening. No longer could I locate the hounds; now the baying sounded clear and sharp, close at hand, and then hollow and faint, and far away. I crawled under gnarled cedars, over jumbles of rock, around leaning crags, until I got out to a point where I had such command of slopes and capes, where the scene was so grand that I was both thrilled and awed. Somewhere below me to my left were the hounds still baying. The lower reaches of the rim consisted of ridges and gorges, benches and ravines, canyons and promontories--a country so wild and broken that it seemed impossible for hounds to travel it, let alone men. Above me, to my right, stuck out a yellow point of rim, and beyond that I knew there jutted out another point, and more and more points on toward the west. George was yelling from one of them, and I thought I heard a faint reply from R.C. or Copple. I believed for the present they were too far westward along the rim, and so I devoted my attention to the slopes under me toward my left. But once my gaze wandered around, and suddenly I espied a shiny black object moving along a bare slope, far below. A bear! So thrilled and excited was I that I did not wonder why this bear walked along so leisurely and calmly. Assuredly he had not even heard the hounds. I began to shoot, and in five rapid shots I spattered dust all over him. Not until I had two more shots, one of which struck close, did he begin to run. Then he got out of my sight. I yelled and yelled to those ahead of me along the rim. Somebody answered, and next somebody began to shoot. How I climbed and crawled and scuffled to get back to my horse! Stockings answered to the spirit of the occasion. Like a deer he ran around the rough rim, and I had to perform with the agility of a contortionist to avoid dead snags of trees and green branches. When I got to the point from which I had calculated George had done his shooting I found no one. My yells brought no answers. But I heard a horse cracking the rocks behind me. Then up from far below rang the sharp spangs of rifles in quick action. Nielsen and Edd were shooting. I counted seven shots. How the echoes rang from wall to wall, to die hollow and faint in the deep canyons!
I galloped ahead to the next point, finding only the tracks of R.C.'s boots. Everywhere I peered for the bear I had sighted, and at intervals I yelled. For all the answer I got I might as well have been alone on the windy rim of the world. My voice seemed lost in immensity. Then I rode westward, then back eastward, and to and fro until both Stockings and I were weary. At last I gave up, and took a good, long rest under a pine on the rim. Not a shot, not a yell, not a sound but wind and the squall of a jay disrupted the peace of that hour. I profited by this lull in the excitement by more means than one, particularly in sight of a flock of wild pigeons. They alighted in the tops of pines below me, so that I could study them through my field glass. They were considerably larger than doves, dull purple color on the back, light on the breast, with ringed or barred neck. Haught had assured me that birds of this description were indeed the famous wild pigeons, now almost extinct in the United States. I remembered my father telling me he had seen flocks that darkened the skies. These pigeons appeared to have swift flight.
Another feature of this rest along the rim was a sight just as beautiful as that of the pigeons, though not so rare; and it was the flying of clouds of colored autumn leaves on the wind.
The westering of the sun advised me that the hours had fled, and it was high time for me to bestir myself toward camp. On my way back I found Haught, his son George, Copple and R.C. waiting for Edd and Nielsen to come up over the rim, and for me to return. They asked for my story. Then I learned theirs. Haught had kept even with the hounds, but had seen only the brown bear that had crossed the ridge early in the day. Copple had worked far westward, to no avail. R.C. had been close to George and me, had heard our bullets pat, yet had been unable to locate any bear. To my surprise it turned out that George had shot at a brown bear when I had supposed it was my black one. Whereupon Haught said: "Reckon Edd an' Nielsen smoked up some other bear."
One by one the hounds climbed over the rim and wearily lay down beside us. Down the long, grassy, cedared aisle I saw Edd and Nielsen plodding up. At length they reached us wet and dusty and thirsty. When Edd got his breath he said: "Right off we struck a hot trail. Bear with eleven-inch track. He'd come down to drink last night. Hounds worked up thet yeller oak thicket, an' somewhere Sue an' Rock jumped him out of his bed. He run down, an' he made some racket. Took to the low slopes an' hit up lively all the way down Dude, then crossed, climbed around under thet bare point of rock. Here some of the hounds caught up with him. We heard a pup yelp, an' after a while Kaiser Bill come sneakin' back. It was awful thick down in the canyon so we climbed the east side high enough to see. An' we were workin' down when the pack bayed the bear round thet bare point. It was up an' across from us. Nielsen an' I climbed on a rock. There was an open rock-slide where we thought the bear would show. It was five hundred yards. We ought to have gone across an' got a stand higher up. Well, pretty soon we saw him come paddlin' out of the brush--a big grizzly, almost black, with a frosty back. He was a silvertip all right. Niels an' I began to shoot. An' thet bear began to hump himself. He was mad, too. His fur stood up like a ruffle on his neck. Niels got four shots an' I got three. Reckon one of us stung him a little. Lordy, how he run! An' his last jump off the slide was a header into the brush. He crossed the canyon, an' climbed thet high east slope of Dude, goin' over the pass where father killed the big cinnamon three years ago. The hounds stuck to his trail. It took us an hour or more to climb up to thet pass. Broad bear trail goes over. We heard the hounds 'way down in the canyon on the other side. Niels an' I worked along the ridge, down an' around, an' back to Dude Creek. I kept callin' the hounds till they all came back. They couldn't catch him. He sure was a jack-rabbit for runnin'. Reckon thet's all.... Now who was smokin' shells up on the rim?"
When all was told and talked over Haught said: "Wal, you can just bet we put up two brown bears an' one black bear, an' thet old Jasper of a silvertip."
How hungry and thirsty and tired I was when we got back to camp! The day had been singularly rich in exciting thrills and sensorial perceptions. I called to the Jap: "I'm starv-ved to death!" And Takahashi, who had many times heard my little boy Loren yell that, grinned all over his dusky face. "Aw, lots good things pretty soon!"
After supper we lounged around a cheerful, crackling camp-fire. The blaze roared in the breeze, the red embers glowed white and opal, the smoke swooped down and curled away into the night shadows. Old Dan, as usual, tried to sit in the fire, and had to be rescued. Buck came to me where I sat with my back to a pine, my feet to the warmth. He was lame to-night, having run all day on that injured leg. The other dogs lay scattered around in range of the heat. Natural indeed was it then, in such an environment, after talking over the auspicious start of our hunt at Dude Creek, that we should drift to the telling of stories.
Sensing this drift I opened the hour of reminiscence and told some of my experiences in the jungle of southern Mexico. Copple immediately topped my stories by more wonderful and hair-raising ones about his own adventures in northern Mexico. These stirred Nielsen to talk about the Seri Indians, and their cannibalistic traits; and from these he drifted to the Yuma Indians. Speaking of their remarkable stature and strength he finally got to the subject of giants of brawn and bone in Norway.
One young Norwegian was eight feet tall and broad in proportion. His employer was a captain of a fishing boat. One time, on the way to their home port, a quarrel arose about money due the young giant, and in his anger he heaved the anchor overboard. That of course halted the boat, and it stayed halted, because the captain and crew could not heave the heavy anchor without the help of their brawny comrade. Finally the money matter was adjusted, and the young giant heaved the anchor without assistance. Nielsen went on to tell that this fisherman of such mighty frame had a beautiful young wife whom he adored. She was not by any means a small or frail girl--rather the contrary--but she appeared diminutive beside her giant husband. One day he returned from a long absence on the sea. When his wife, in her joy, ran into his arms, he gave her such a tremendous hug that he crushed her chest, and she died. In his grief the young husband went insane and did not survive her long.
Next Nielsen told a story about Norwegians sailing to the Arctic on a scientific expedition. Just before the long polar night of darkness set in there arose a necessity for the ship and crew to return to Norway. Two men must be left in the Arctic to care for the supplies until the ship came back. The captain called for volunteers. There were two young men in the crew, and from childhood they had been playmates, schoolmates, closer than brothers, and inseparable even in manhood. One of these young men said to his friend: "I'll stay if you will." And the other quickly agreed. After the ship sailed, and the land of the midnight sun had become icy and black, one of these comrades fell ill, and soon died. The living one placed the body in the room with the ship supplies, where it froze stiff; and during all the long polar night of solitude and ghastly gloom he lived next to this sepulchre that contained his dead friend. When the ship returned the crew found the living comrade an old man with hair as white as snow, and never in his life afterward was he seen to smile.
These stories stirred my emotions like Doyle's tale about Jones' Ranch. How wonderful, beautiful, terrible and tragical is human life! Again I heard the still, sad music of humanity, the eternal beat and moan of the waves upon a lonely shingle shore. Who would not be a teller of tales?
Copple followed Nielsen with a story about a prodigious feat of his own--a story of incredible strength and endurance, which at first I took to be a satire on Nielsen's remarkable narrative. But Copple seemed deadly serious, and I began to see that he possessed a strange simplicity of exaggeration. The boys thought Copple stretched the truth a little, but I thought that he believed what he told.
Haught was a great teller of tales, and his first story of the evening happened to be about his brother Bill. They had a long chase after a bear and became separated. Bill was new at the game, and he was a peculiar fellow anyhow. Much given to talking to himself! Haught finally rode to the edge of a ridge and espied Bill under a pine in which the hounds had treed a bear. Bill did not hear Haught's approach, and on the moment he was stalking round the pine, swearing at the bear, which clung to a branch about half way up. Then Haught discovered two more full-grown bears up in the top of the pine, the presence of which Bill had not the remotest suspicion. "Ahuh! you ole black Jasper!" Bill was yelling. "I treed you an' in a minnit I'm agoin' to assassinate you. Chased me about a hundred miles--! An' thought you'd fool me, didn't you? Why, I've treed more bears than you ever saw--! You needn't look at me like thet, 'cause I'm mad as a hornet. I'm agoin' to assassinate you in a minnit an' skin your black har off, I am--"
"Bill," interrupted Haught, "what are you goin' to do about the other two bears up in the top of the tree?"
Bill was amazed to hear and see his brother, and greatly astounded and tremendously elated to discover the other two bears. He yelled and acted as one demented. "Three black Jaspers! I've treed you all. An' I'm agoin' to assassinate you all!"
"See here, Bill," said Haught, "before you begin that assassinatin' make up your mind not to cripple any of them. You've got to shoot straight, so they'll be dead when they fall. If they're only crippled, they'll kill the hounds."
Bill was insulted at any suggestions as to his possible poor marksmanship. But this happened to be his first experience with bears in trees. He began to shoot and it took nine shots for him to dislodge the bears. Worse than that they all tumbled out of the tree--apparently unhurt. The hounds, of course, attacked them, and there arose a terrible uproar. Haught had to run down to save his dogs. Bill was going to shoot right into the melee, but Haught knocked the rifle up, and forbid him to use it. Then Bill ran into the thick of the fray to beat off the hounds. Haught became exceedingly busy himself, and finally disposed of two of the bears. Then hearing angry bawls and terrific yells he turned to see Bill climbing a tree with a big black bear tearing the seat out of his pants. Haught disposed of this bear also. Then he said: "Bill, I thought you was goin' to assassinate them." Bill slid down out of the tree, very pale and disheveled. "By Golly, I'll skin 'em anyhow!"
Haught had another brother named Henry, who had come to Arizona from Texas, and had brought a half-hound with him. Henry offered to wager this dog was the best bear chaser in the country. The general impression Henry's hound gave was that he would not chase a rabbit. Finally Haught took his brother Henry and some other men on a bear hunt. There were wagers made as to the quality of Henry's half-hound. When at last Haught's pack struck a hot scent, and were off with the men riding fast behind, Henry's half-breed loped alongside his master, paying no attention to the wild baying of the pack. He would look up at Henry as if to say: "No hurry, boss. Wait a little. Then I'll show them!" He loped along, wagging his tail, evidently enjoying this race with his master. After a while the chase grew hotter. Then Henry's half-hound ran ahead a little way, and came back to look up wisely, as if to say: "Not time yet!" After a while, when the chase grew very hot indeed, Henry's wonderful canine let out a wild yelp, darted ahead, overtook the pack and took the lead in the chase, literally chewing the heels of the bear till he treed. Haught and his friends lost all the wagers.
The most remarkable bears in this part of Arizona were what Haught called blue bears, possibly some kind of a cross between brown and black. This species was a long, slim, blue-furred bear with unusually large teeth and very long claws. So different from ordinary bears that it appeared another species. The blue bear could run like a greyhound, and keep it up all day and all night. Its power of endurance was incredible. In Haught's twenty years of hunting there he had seen a number of blue bears and had killed two. Haught chased one all day with young and fast hounds. He went to camp, but the hounds stuck to the chase. Next day Haught followed the hounds and bear from Dude Creek over into Verde Canyon, back to Dude Creek, and then back to Verde again. Here Haught gave out, and was on his way home when he met the blue bear padding along as lively as ever.
I never tired of listening to Haught. He had killed over a hundred bears, many of them vicious grizzlies, and he had often escaped by a breadth of a hair, but the killing stories were not the most interesting to me. Haught had lived a singularly elemental life. He never knew what to tell me, because I did not know what to ask for, so I just waited for stories, experiences, woodcraft, natural history and the like, to come when they would. Once he had owned an old bay horse named Moze. Under any conditions of weather or country Moze could find his way back to camp. Haught would let go the bridle, and Moze would stick up his ears, look about him, and circle home. No matter if camp had been just where Haught had last thrown a packsaddle!
When Haught first came to Arizona and began his hunting up over the rim he used to get down in the cedar country, close to the desert. Here he heard of a pure black antelope that was the leader of a herd of ordinary color, which was a grayish white. The day came when Haught saw this black antelope. It was a very large, beautiful stag, the most noble and wild and sagacious animal Haught had ever seen. For years he tried to stalk it and kill it, and so did other hunters. But no hunter ever got even a shot at it. Finally this black antelope disappeared and was never heard of again.
By this time Copple had been permitted a long breathing spell, and now began a tale calculated to outdo the Arabian Nights. I envied his most remarkable imagination. His story had to do with hunting meat for a mining camp in Mexico. He got so expert with a rifle that he never aimed at deer. Just threw his gun, as was a habit of gun-fighters! Once the camp was out of meat, and also he was out of ammunition. Only one shell left! He came upon a herd of deer licking salt at a deer lick. They were small deer and he wanted several or all of them. So he manoeuvred around and waited until five of the deer had lined up close together. Then, to make sure, he aimed so as to send his one bullet through their necks. Killed the whole five in one shot!
We were all reduced to a state of mute helplessness and completely at Copple's mercy. Next he gave us one of his animal tales. He was hunting along the gulf shore on the coast of Sonora, where big turtles come out to bask in the sun and big jaguars come down to prowl for meat. One morning he saw a jaguar jump on the back of a huge turtle, and begin to paw at its neck. Promptly the turtle drew in head and flippers, and was safe under its shell. The jaguar scratched and clawed at a great rate, but to no avail. Then the big cat turned round and seized the tail of the turtle and began to chew it. Whereupon the turtle stuck out its head, opened its huge mouth and grasped the tail of the jaguar. First to give in was the cat. He let go and let out a squall. But the turtle started to crawl off, got going strong, and dragged the jaguar into the sea and drowned him. With naive earnestness Copple assured his mute listeners that he could show them the exact spot in Sonora where this happened.
Retribution inevitably overtakes transgressors. Copple in his immense loquaciousness was not transgressing much, for he really was no greater dreamer than I, but the way he put things made us want to see the mighty hunter have a fall.
We rested the hounds next day, and I was glad to rest myself. About sunset Copple rode up to the rim to look for his mules. We all heard him shoot eight times with his rifle and two with his revolver. Everybody said: "Turkeys! Ten turkeys--maybe a dozen, if Copple got two in line!" And we were all glad to think so. We watched eagerly for him, but he did not return till dark. He seemed vastly sore at himself. What a remarkable hard luck story he told! He had come upon a flock of turkeys, and they were rather difficult to see. All of them were close, and running fast. He shot eight times at eight turkeys and missed them all. Too dark--brush--trees--running like deer. Copple had a dozen excuses. Then he saw a turkey on a log ten feet away. He shot twice. The turkey was a knot, and he had missed even that.
Thereupon I seized my opportunity and reminded all present how Copple had called out: "Turkey number one! Turkey number two!" the day I had missed so many. Then I said:
"Ben, you must have yelled out to-night like this." And I raised my voice high.
"Turkey number one--Nix!... Turkey number two--missed, by Gosh!... Turkey number three--never touched him!... Turkey number four--No!... Turkey number five--Aw, I'm shootin' blank shells!... Turkey number six on the log--BY THUNDER, I CAN'T SEE STRAIGHT!"
We all had our fun at Copple's expense. The old bear hunter, Haught, rolled on the ground, over and over, and roared in his mirth.